Convenience stores are ideally positioned to capitalize on the foodservice grab-and-go opportunity now and in the post-pandemic era. Technomic’s Q2 2020 C-Store Consumer MarketBrief found that food and beverage was second only to fuel in c-store category purchases in Q2 2020. And while overall c-store visits fell during that time, 11% of patrons said they were actually visiting c-stores more often than they did pre-pandemic, with foodservice being a key driver. Even better, among all customers surveyed, most say they plan to patronize c-stores just as often as they did before once they feel it’s safe to do so.
Despite this reassuring data, it’s clear that customer behavior, needs and expectations are changing. But this also means opportunity for operators. Plan your c-store’s foodservice experience around these four priorities to get the most out of the grab-and-go opportunity.
During the height of the pandemic, consumers showed they liked the “one-stop shopping” experience c-stores provide, enabling them to grab a meal while stopping to fuel up and to limit their exposure and time spent away from home. They also embraced the new behavior of ordering from c-stores for delivery or pickup, either via a third-party app or the c-store’s own app, with foodservice orders being twice as common as just-grocery orders, according to Technomic.
The pandemic served as a de facto trial period for many consumers who had never purchased from c-stores via delivery or pickup before. Having tried and liked it, a substantial group is likely to continue even after the pandemic is over. A smooth delivery and curbside pickup experience is no longer merely nice to have—it’s expected.
The same goes for food format. Wrapping a warm breakfast sandwich in a sleeve and keeping it in a warmer for grab-and-go is a great alternative to traditional roller grill items, which some customers may hesitate to purchase due to heightened sensitivity around self-serve stations and shared utensils. Anything that can be consumed quickly, or that fits into a car’s cup holder, will be appreciated as customers resume their busy schedules. (Be sure to include a TABASCO® Mini Bottle—available in Original Red, Green Jalapeño and Chipotle Pepper—for a convenient, delightful flavor boost!)
Deal-seeking will be a key behavior during these uncertain economic times. You can turn this into an advantage with bundles and promotions, even if you’re scaling back your menu. Focus on items that drive sales and turn them into a value play. For example, bundle a top-selling breakfast sandwich with a hash brown and coffee at an appealing price point. Also consider cross-promoting grocery items along with foodservice ones, doubling down on both convenience and value.
Though core sales drivers are important, don’t lose sight of customers’ hunger for something new in both prepared and packaged foods. Novel flavors have been key drivers of packaged snack growth in c-stores this year. According to Innova Market Insights, novelty candy—think unusual colors, “popping” sensations, interactive packaging, and hot and spicy flavors—have driven confection purchases. This holds true in other snacking categories as well. For example, sales of dried meat snacks are up in c-stores, with adventurous flavors like jalapeño and habanero leading growth.
It’s clear that customers are looking for excitement when they visit the c-store, so make sure your foodservice program offers it in the form of innovative LTO menu items or customization options. Offering hot sauce is a great way to boost a food’s flavor profile without having to change your current menu, so don’t forget the Original Red, Green Jalapeño and Chipotle Pepper TABASCO® Brand PC Packets!
Note as well that snack time is increasingly turning into mealtime. Promoting menu items at all times of day can help you find new customers outside the traditional breakfast and lunch dayparts.
Minimizing safety concerns will be key to getting and keeping loyalty in these uncertain times. Calling attention to your sanitation practices goes a long way in helping customers feel comfortable again. The same goes for redefining the tactile aspects of the self-serve experience: though Technomic’s data indicates that customers are likely to return to self-serve options (such as coffee and soft drinks) once the pandemic is over, they’re most hesitant about high-touch, high-traffic areas like condiment bars.
Enter single-serve condiments. Among c-store patrons who say they won’t purchase self-serve formats, or are neutral about them, 40% say they would purchase individually portioned condiment packets, according to Technomic. Not offering these options means you run the risk of losing those purchases altogether, as customers will find alternate outlets that suit their needs.
You can be part of your customers’ new habits, building loyalty with current customers and reaching new ones. Approaching the “new normal” may feel overwhelming, but by setting your strategy around these four customer-first priorities, the grab-and-go opportunity is yours for the taking.
As the No. 1 hot sauce asked for by name, TABASCO® Brand can help you through your journey. The hot sauce brand customers recognize and trust is available in convenient, single-serve solutions that are perfect for seizing the grab-and-go opportunity. Explore c-store solutions at TABASCOfoodservice.com/convenience.
- Independent study (Datassential, December 2018)
This post is sponsored by TABASCO® Brand